A Radical Love

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hands holding the sun at dawn

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: Engage in an act of generosity today. Buy someone a cup of coffee, send a note or gift to someone you think could use it, or make time in your day to spend with someone who could use your gift of time and presence. Dwell in the experience of self-emptying for the sake of another.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“OPEN ME TO RECEIVE MORE OF YOU.”

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The closer I grow to Christ
The more I feel
A radical love
On fire within me
Aching for release

How do I explain?
It is wholeness
It is salvation
It is justice

It is fulfillment
And emptying

What might happen
If I let this radical love
Lose on the world?

Where might it lead?
What might if ask of me?
How might it change me?

The more I get to know
The One I claim to follow
The more I see how
My wholeness is linked
With the well-being of all
The more I see how
The deepest dream within me
Is Shalom

Maybe this is what Lent is for
Attention to this radical love
Which is
Christ alive deep within you
With a heart on fire for
Something new

I am beginning to understand
In that space beyond words
What it means
That I must lose my life
To find it

REMINDER: March 1, 2015 is the registration deadline for our upcoming Lenten Retreat with Presiding Evangelist, David Brock. The theme is INTO THE WILDERNESS (March 13-15). If you are seeking a deeper exploration of the season of Lent in your life and yearn to grow closer with God, we would love to share this experience with you! Email khmclaughlin@cofchrist.org if you have any questions.

Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  March 13-15, 2015 Click here to register!

Becoming Free

Subscribe to the Spiritual Formation Center blog to share your Lenten Journey experience.

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Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: Find a possession that you value or enjoy and choose to give it away to someone else. What does it feel like to let go? How is God present in your generous giving?
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“OPEN ME TO RECEIVE MORE OF YOU.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I love books. Our home office has stacks of books highlighted and underlined, with messages of meaning and question etched in the margins. If you ask to borrow one of my books, I will feel my heart rate quicken. Several times I have had good friends come to visit who decided to borrow books as they were packing up to leave. I let them go begrudgingly. In fact, I am ashamed to say that I was so focused on losing one of my books that I missed the last several moments with ones I love. I was blinded to the person in front of me because they were taking what was “mine.”

It is ok to love books. The concern comes when I refuse to let them go, when I place them in priority above people or use them to try to be something other than my most authentic self. Why this feeling of resistance? Why this holding on? Are my books part of an identity that I want to portray? Do stacks of books make me feel wise or educated? Do I feel like what I have gained from reading will be lost if I don’t have the pages to hold in my hands? Does the sight of all these books make up for the deeper sense of inadequacy that always threatens to emerge right beneath the surface?

Lent is about honestly confronting everything that keeps us at a distance from the connecting and reconciling impulse of the Holy Spirit. Everything means my attitudes, behaviors, and possessions. It is not exactly the thing that matters the most. It is about locating the feeling of attachment to the thing. It is about realizing, sometimes slowly, that I am not as free as I thought I was. It is about then locating that feeling in relation to all the other things, attitudes, behaviors, relationships I am attached to that keep me from being free in God’s Spirit.

This isn’t an exercise in meaningless, or even mean, testing. It reaches to the roots of a consumer culture that assigns value based on what we have and do not have. It triggers our impulses toward accumulation, sometimes at the expense of others, sometimes at the expense of ourselves. The health of our souls, and the earth, at this moment in history may very well be linked to our willingness or reluctance to let go of the things that have claimed us. This is a justice issue. This is a spiritual issue. This is a human issue.

If God’s desire for our lives is oneness and equality in Christ, then what is getting in the way of that ultimate vision? What are you willing to give to make it real?

Below is a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some call it a radical prayer! May these words bless and challenge you as you continue to EMPTY during this season of Lent!

“Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.” –St. Ignatius of Loyola

REMINDER: March 1, 2015 is the registration deadline for our upcoming Lenten Retreat with Presiding Evangelist, David Brock. The theme is INTO THE WILDERNESS (March 13-15). If you are seeking a deeper exploration of the season of Lent in your life and yearn to grow closer with God, we would love to share this experience with you! Email khmclaughlin@cofchrist.org if you have any questions.

Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  March 13-15, 2015 Click here to register!

Blessed to be a Blessing – Emily & Andrew’s Peace Corps Adventures

handsby Emily Allen Nilsen
Re-blogged from: May We Suggest

Blessing.

This word has meant different things to me over the course of my  life thus far. It once brought to mind the image of an all-powerful God who was moving pieces of my life around like a life-sized game of muggle-chess (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference). I used to believe blessings came from God and you were lucky if He chose to bless you.  I no longer see it that way.

As I got older, theological questions began to cloud my once clear picture and understanding of God. Why would God choose to bless me and NOT bless others? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all loving, how can extremely terrible things like natural disasters or genocide happen? Was God too busy “blessing” little ole me to do anything about those BIG issues. These questions and more plagued my heart and soul as I struggled to make sense of it all.

For a while, I wondered if I didn’t even believe in God, as least not in the same “God” I had before. I knew I believed in something; some collective, creative, connective power, but was that God if God meant all the images I had been taught for so long? I never felt comfortable saying I didn’t believe, because that wasn’t completely true, but I also couldn’t claim the concepts I once knew and stood by. I remember thinking that old saying “ignorance is bliss,” has so much truth in it. I wanted, on some level, to go back to my old ways of thinking. It was so much easier to just believe that God was in control, that God had a plan for my life.  If only I could take away the questions I wrestled with, the doubts that drowned me in darkness.

But I couldn’t go back.

I had been changed – by untimely deaths of friends and loved ones, by injustice that existed and still exists, by pain, by the cruelty in the world. I’d been forced to think – by hard academics/religious classes at Graceland (my alma mater), by friends going through similar faith crisis, by the questions that wouldn’t go away and shattered my pretty-ordered-God-in-a-box-world.

Even today, I’m not sure where exactly things changed. There was never a moment of clarity or insight, just a slow steady crawl to new understanding. There are truths I feel and recognize in my deepest soul; there is something more, there is some connecting spirit, we are many but we are one. Slowly, I began to claim God again. Not the same God as before, but I choose to still use the word “God” because I have no other word for “it.”

I believe in hope.  I believe in love.  I believe in the power we have to love and affect those around us.  I believe our thoughts and intentions are far more powerful than we have any idea about.  I believe the universe is a connected web of intentions, and relationships, and feelings rather like the neurons in our brains.  I believe that connective force that can transcend time and distance is what we have poorly understood as God, so we thought God should be more like us – human, white, male, and petty, choosing to bless some and not others.

The word blessing now means something very different to me as well.  Blessing is an active tapping into that loving, wise energy.  Blessing is about rooting oneself into that force and allowing one’s heart to expand.  It can be felt by individuals or groups, in times of sorrow, in times of joy.  Being blessed isn’t a passive state where God plays games with your life.  Blessing is listening to the callings and promptings, listening to the wisdom that exists in the lives all around us.  Blessings invoke ancient power within our own lives and souls, connecting us to each other and the Earth.

I now believe that blessings are far more about love.

This past Sunday was the last time Andrew and I would be with our local congregation for a few years.  On that day, we gathered with our friends and family to receive a blessing for our Peace Corps service.  It was an opportunity and invitation to accept love and support from our community.  It was an invitation to go deeper and to prepare emotionally to embrace the challenges and blessings our Peace Corps service has to offer.  It was incredible to feel such hope and such love.  Not many young adults participate in organized religion in the Portland area, but we feel the intergenerational relationships we have made the past 4 years, sharing with that community, have changed our lives for the better. We have their stories, their lessons, their support.

Regardless if you are Christian or not, or participate in any religion at all, it is my sincere hope that at some point in your life you feel the level of support Andrew and I felt last Sunday for transitioning to this new stage of life.  While it is difficult to say goodbye to people who have become our friends and extended family, we will carry their blessings forward.  Thank you, Tuality Community of Christ for being companions on our journey.

May we be open to the blessings today that our loved ones helped us find and feel.  May we listen with open hearts to the callings and promptings around us.  May we feel the love and support from this past Sunday so strongly that it can help sustain us and support us through our Peace Corps service.  May we be blessed.

An Invasion of the Spirit

10347080_10152609914469626_2762262453570255050_nby Wayne Allen

Recently the town where I work, Portsmouth, Ohio was invaded. The word invasion can take on different meanings, in this case the town was invaded by the Spirit of God, through an event called City Invasion.

The event was held at Spartan Municipal Stadium. For months prior to the event, volunteers and organizers canvassed the area with promotional material. The event was held with a great deal of anticipation about the amount of people that may attend. Before the event, one city official said organizers were anticipating as many as 20,000 people to be in attendance! Invasion filled Spartan Municipal Stadium with various performers booths and activities for participants to take part in. I have to admit I showed up to the event a couple hours into it, by the time I got there the group, We As Human, were taking the stage. Although they are not the type of band I listen to all of the time, I was impressed with the amount of people that were there for the show. After a while there was some BMX riders and pro-skateboarders that gave demonstrations.

Right after the artist Thi’sl’s performance, event organizer Amy Lambert took the stage to address the thousands of people in attendance. Lambert told the crowd about her life experience when it came to drugs and being an addict. She said it was because of a message she received from God in 2009 that she changed her life around and began working on what would become City Invasion.

After her testimony, Lambert extended an invitation for those that might have been moved by her testimony to be prayed for by a team of ministers that were standing by. Out of the thousands of people in attendance I would guess several hundred went to the tent to be prayed for. At this point I was sitting at the top of the home bleachers in the stadium to get a perspective on the amount of people in attendance. After those that wanted to be prayed for arrived at the tent, the remainder of the crowd was invited to join them in support. Several more people went to the tent in support. The invitation was also afforded to those in attendance to get baptized that night by local ministers. Several accepted the invitation and were baptized.

Seeing this take place from a ‘birds eye view’ it brought a tear to my eye. To me, it was evident the Spirit of God had a hand in this event . It also reminded me that we live in a community that can sometimes be divided on a lot of issues and topics, but during that time and experience we were not a divided community, but a community celebrating and rejoicing with those making the choice to follow a God that brought us all together in the first place. Was this area ready for City Invasion? I would venture to say we were more than ready. And for those that chose to be prayed for or baptized that night, their life was invaded and hopefully changed as a result.

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Shalom Place: Spiritual Practice at IYF 2014

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin of Wickliffe, Ohio, USA
Re-blogged from: Daily Bread

Be still, and know that I am God!  — Psalm 46:10 NRSV

 

8-29aThree teenage girls moved attentively and reverently through the spiritual practice stations in Shalom Place during the International Youth Forum (IYF) at the Temple in Independence, Missouri. They did not chatter, but participated, eager, in each practice invitation. I watched them deliberately tie knots into string and then run their fingers slowly over it as they engaged in a form of the examen practice. It seemed like they were searching for something, and they were doing it together. With the murmur of activity just outside, something of Spirit drew them into this quiet, still place.

I held each of them in prayer. I was curious about the experience they were having. I wondered what these moments at IYF would mean in their spiritual development as disciples of Jesus Christ. How was the Spirit forming within them in that very moment as they held string in their fingers and bowed their heads in prayer?

I glanced over at the Expressions of God wall and smiled at the phrase someone had written, “She’s awesome!” I noticed electric candles flickering at the Holding in the Light station and prayer request cards in the basket. Each day I read the concerns and held them in the light of God’s healing love. Staff and campers shared issues of identity, health, relationships, and desire for God-connection. I am in awe at the ways our lives come together in these shared sacred spaces—untold stories and concerns and hopes intermingling as vulnerability beckons.

All week at IYF in Independence, Missouri, Shalom Place served as a space of prayer, practice, and rest. I was impressed by the responsiveness of those who volunteered as a presence to our youth during this transformational experience in their lives. People responded as though being available to our youth and holding them in prayer was a sacred privilege. They generously offered their time and prayer to the youth and staff that came in seeking God in the form of a new practice, a moment of silence, or the yearning for a deeper conversation. Words of blessing from evangelists hung around the room embracing the youth in a spirit of love and care. People from nearby and far away, sent beautiful words of support and guidance, and held our youth in prayer.

I am grateful to the IYF team for making spiritual practice a priority by designating this space. My prayer is that this time in the life of our youth will continue to awaken them to the God who is always present and inviting them to experience and live Christ’s peace.

Prayer for Peace Listening God, we whisper, and you hear us. We cry out in pain, and you hear us. We sit in lonely silence, and you hear us. We praise you with thankful hearts, and you hear us. Hear our answer to your call for peace, “Here I am, send me.”

Spiritual Practice: Prayer of Examen Spend a few moments recalling your day. If it is morning, recall yesterday. Let all the details, events, and conversations drift through your memory. Offer gratitude for the day and pray that you might be aware of how God was present with you. What did you notice or feel that brought meaning? As you review your day, pay attention to the times you could have been more Christ-like. Offer a prayer of confession, seeking forgiveness for the times you were unaware or potentially caused harm to yourself, others, or creation. Pay attention to the moments your life was in harmony with God’s vision for creation. Pray that you will be even more aware the next day of God’s presence with you and opportunities to respond to that presence. Amen.

Peace Covenant

Today, God, I will ask local IYF attendees to tell their stories, and I will listen. Or go to the church’s website and see the photo gallery at http://www.cofchrist.org/iyf/.

The Messiness of Oneness

Photo by: Noela Inions

Photo by: Noela Inions

(Written by Erica in October 2008)

I’ve been blessed to participate in a thriving and mission-driven Community of Christ congregation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I began to have some doubts.

Years ago, a small group of disciples recognized a need in their community. They recognized their own giftedness and skills that could help, and they bravely explored a call to minister to their community in a new way. Church for them began to take a whole different shape. They had to rethink what church would look like in order to serve their mission. As they sought to follow God’s unfolding call, they darkened doors of opportunity and met the challenges of ministry that those opportunities held.

It was not a simple or easy process to become a community shaped by God’s call. It was not a quick process. But gradually it became the congregation that I attend today. It’s a ministry that touches lives every day. And it creates disciples.

Not too long ago, the group convened a business meeting. After a weekly worship service, we gathered with our usual casual atmosphere.  But when the meeting began we realized that the business we would be discussing was much more than “casual”.  We would be dealing with issues that hit right at the core of the congregation.

You see, over the last few years, as the congregation has followed God’s lead, little by little we have grown! Our vision was expanding. We were succeeding! Now we were discovering that if we were to continue to grow, it could require substantial change.

So in that business meeting we began to envision the future for our ministry. We were faced with some questions. They cut to the heart of who we are, our identity.

What do we call ourselves?  Why?

To whom do we choose to minister?  What does this mean for our mission?

Where do we meet to accommodate that mission?

What would we be willing to change in order to grow?  Is change really necessary?

One by one, members – long-time congregants and new participants – offered their hopes, ideas, and concerns to answer these questions. As you would imagine, these are issues with a lot of history.  Some had built this ministry with years of dedicated love and effort.  Some felt a strong responsibility for the future of the congregation. Everyone held deep love and concern for this community as it is and as it will be.

As each of us layered our perspectives on this issues…as the meeting stretched on…and a sense of urgency mounted…tension grew.  Tempers shortened.

We struggled through the process as gently as we could, but we were not approaching answers. The tension continued to rise.

Finally at one point, in the intensity of the discussion, one person accidentally misspoke. A comment was made that was received as hurtful. The tension reached its limit. We burst into a small confusion of frustration, disappointment, and bruised feelings. One person stormed out. The agenda was lost in the need to care for those who felt injured and to clean up the mess the meeting had created. We decided we would have to come together again to approach these big questions. And again. And again.

But in that moment many in the room were left feeling unsettled, unfinished, embarrassed, offended, worried.

What is this?!  This is supposed to be sacred community!

Then one long-time member who has served as a mentor for many, including me, stood. “Let’s close with a prayer.” He motioned for us to all to form a circle and link our hands. And he prayed.

He acknowledged that each of us are fragile and imperfect creatures, trying our to serve in the best way we know how. He thanked God for the blessed community we have had the joy of building. He thanked God for the deep concern and love each one has for the welfare of this ministry, and those it is called to serve – though our ideas and experiences may be different.

Above all, he thanked God for the unifying love we all share in our collective discipleship of Jesus Christ. Finally, he thanked God for the hope we have together in the God’s continued and faithful ministry through our community.

As that prayer concluded, a spirit of peace rested in the circle. The wounded emotions and frenzied concerns of the congregation were soothed. We could see again that our stumbles and disagreement were far less important than our unity and hope in Christ. God’s presence among us would heal the brokenness that would come when we stretched our community in search of our mission.  And in fact, to be faithful to God’s call into the future it would be necessary for our community to meet the messy challenge of discussion, discovery, conflict, and confusion. Even in the moments of discord God was forming us into a community that could best reflect God’s will.

Our challenge was – and is – to recognize Christ’s unifying presence in the midst of the journey. And to let Christ be guide to us all on the path.

Holy Attention

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
Re-blogged from: Connect. Engage. Inspire

I was tired before we even knocked on the door or sat down to dinner. I felt myself pulling inward, wanting to be a casual observer or sprawled on my couch at home. It felt difficult to gather the energy to be attentive in relationship.

As we sat around the table, pouring iced tea into paper cups, I knew I needed to be more present. I gathered strength of heart to seek the holy here. Adjusting perspective in the same surroundings can make all the difference. I looked deeply at my companions around the table and realized how profound it was to feel ordinary in the home of people I had met just over a year ago.

We shared naturally about the details of our lives that we had discovered from many previous conversations. I reflected on the moment I first met Charlie on the street and saw in him the Living Christ. The question is this: Do I still see the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

My life has been transformed countless times through the practice of holy attention. All spiritual practices can cultivate within us a new way of seeing the world drenched in Spirit. We can practice holy attention in solitude or amid everyday activity. There is no formula. It is simply pausing and choosing to see God in the midst of what is, wherever and whenever.

My testimonies of God’s Spirit have almost all begun with noticing God in the details, seemingly insignificant encounters throughout the day that change everything about how I understand what it means to be a disciple.
Holy attention is often, if not always, local and specific. It is about the right-here-right-now details of life. This understanding of God’s pervasive presence, which can capture us in any moment we choose to awaken to its reality, continually disrupts my life and prompts my response.

spiritualAttention to the Spirit can alter our view. A Disciple’s Generous Response during worship takes new meaning when a recently homeless man dumps all his quarters in the “change for change” bucket. Overhearing a conversation between two congregants about an injustice in our community and how we can respond causes me to pause in the rush of Sunday-morning preparations.

It is in the details of relationship, the details of daily life, the details of the natural world that we are able to encounter God’s presence in abundance. Simone Weil put it this way, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” I have found myself longing to share this experience. I have found myself wanting to say, “Just look—really look—and you won’t be able to glance anywhere without seeing the Living Christ.” Holy attention is where mission begins.

As I sat at the dinner table with Charlie, this question shifted my paradigm in just seconds: Do I still see in him the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?

Yes!

This, too, is God’s movement among us: our growing comfort in relationship and the extraordinary fact that this whole thing now feels so ordinary. Total strangers turned into friends.

At the table, I notice others who I know only from following God’s promptings in my heart to be here, vulnerable to relationship. Suddenly pizza and paper plates are nothing less than sacrament. I see everything from a changed perspective and give thanks for the ways we come together through this constant and abundant Spirit of God.